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September 1, 1994
Vol. 52
No. 1

Teaching With Love at Oasis High

Teachers at a small, effective school have learned how to help troubled, high-risk students.

Students who enter Oasis High School have had difficulties in traditional schools and are at high risk of future unemployment or incarceration. Of our 150 students, ages 16–22, 96 percent have received no high school credit the previous semester, 39 percent are pregnant or teen mothers or fathers, and 85 percent either exhibit high-risk drug behavior themselves or have family members who do. Approximately 35 percent are, or have been, on probation, 10 percent have attempted suicide, and 80 percent are two to six years behind in reading comprehension.
But this is a story about success, not failure. Oasis High is a small, effective alternative school that helps our students beat the odds. Upon leaving our program, our students are ready to succeed. A May 1993 survey (with an 81 percent response rate) of our 1987–1992 graduates revealed that 36 percent were attending college, 5 percent were housewives at home with young children, 5 percent were in the armed services, and 51 percent were employed. Only 3 percent were unemployed.

The Nurture of Individuals

Recently, when an adnimistrator from another state asked me what Oasis High was all about, I blurted out my best answer yet: “individualized love.” When I say we practice “love” at Oasis High School, I mean that we involve ourselves at an emotional level to nurture and strengthen our students' growth. We believe this willingness to give our students love, something many of them have been deprived of, is an essential ingredient in their success.
Our school's structure allows us the chance to fulfill our vision. Our staff is relatively small: one team leader/supervisor, five teachers, one teacher/counselor, one teacher aide, one secretary, one daycare aide, and a part-time custodian. Because all of us are on the school improvement team, communication is easy and accurate. Team planning time occurs every Monday from 9 to noon, and we make all decisions by consensus.

Creative Features

  • Student ownership because students choose the school.
  • A “family” atmosphere: teachers and students are on a first-name basis; teachers are not subject matter specialists but generalists adept at helping students build self-esteem.
  • A nontraditional school building: “open” classrooms without doors; use of tables, chairs, and couches instead of desks; no bells; no passing time between classes.
  • A high level of counseling available for students: students receive credit for two weekly sessions of group counseling.
  • A well-equipped computer lab.
  • A later start to the school day and added time on four days, making the fifth day optional.
  • On-site daycare with an emphasis on good parenting skills.
  • Extensive use of partnerships with Central Michigan University (reading tutors, mentoring tutors, counseling groups, social work interns) and local community agencies.
  • A non-coercive discipline policy: few suspensions, no vandalism.
  • A variety of teaching methods: individualized instruction, mastery learning, experiential learning, outdoor education, cooperative learning activities.
  • Use of authentic assessment tools.
  • Credit given in small pieces: 1/12 credit per three-week block.
  • Nongraded classes; no retention.
  • Full inclusion of special education students in regular classes.
  • Emphasis on “whole person” learning: all-school interdisciplinary units and discussions using students' background knowledge; all-school reading/writing workshops.

A Better Place

Within the past five years we've achieved dramatic school improvement gains and have received many state and national awards. In June 1992, we were one of two high schools in Michigan to receive the Middle Cities Excellence in Leadership Award. In April 1993, our school team was one of only 15 nationwide to receive the prestigious Reader's Digest “American Heroes in Education” award. But awards and accolades aside, it's our graduates who make us so extremely proud.

Carol Meixner has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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